Affordable housing technology emerges in Valley of the Sun
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
Affordable housing and building homes that are affordable are two distinctive pursuits happening around the Valley of the Sun — and Scottsdale Councilwoman Solange Whitehead hopes to spur a new perspective at City Hall around all things new and emerging that housing has to offer this fall.
In the coming months, the newly re-elected councilwoman — unofficial results of the August primary election show — hopes to further discussions atop the local dais around finding ways to build in affordability into tenets of development project negotiations at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
There are new and innovative ways — just a handful of years ago thought of as impractical — coming to market, according to Hercutech CEO Jason Rhees.
“It essentially replaces the lumber of the structure,” he told the Arizona Digital Free Press in early August. “It doesn’t matter what you are building: duplex, single-family or multifamily settings. Everything is done here at our factory, which is based in Tempe.”
The new technology is coined “HercuWall,” which is the patented building material and method that is comprised of four common materials — made of insulating foam, reinforced with a patented steel ShearStrip, laminated with a weather-resistant barrier, and followed by site integrated concrete.
“What is interesting about it is how fast we are able to get it installed,” Mr. Rhees said of recent time studies.
“The speed of construction with ‘HercuWall’ with three- to four-person crews — we outpaced a 12-person traditional crew. We have been recognizing tremendous growth over the last 24 months. One of those reasons is our costs compared to lumber costs, which have been increasing along with demand. We have over 550 units completed across every municipality throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area.”
Mr. Rhees explains Hercutech is anticipating a total of 7,000 units with HercuWall materials coming to market over the next two calendar years.
“Our business model is focused around build-for-rent, which is a relatively new product type in multifamily,” he said. “Our philosophy is one that if it has repeatable plans that will allow for efficiency in our factory and on the construction site.”
Mr. Rhees points out Hercutech is building with 99% recyclable material, including on site where there is no waste.
“This is how we have addressed the labor crisis that is going around us. We are in the workforce, multifamily housing,” he said of the niche marketplace expanding here in the Valley. “We don’t have generations and generations going into the construction trade … this has become a significant win during a time we all desperately need it.”
Through expertise of the marketplace and the construction of complex structures is spurring success, Mr. Rhees explains.
“What we have done is we have surrounded ourselves with an incredible team who have the construction experience and are able to tie-in the manufacturing side, which is crucial,” he said. “Everything we produce is a part of a fully-automated environment and the demand is going with the marketplace.”
(Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress.com)
A brief word on Scottsdale housing
Councilwoman Whitehead offers a picture of the nuanced factors impacting the availability and affordability of certain housing types in Scottsdale.
“One of the issues we are facing here in Scottsdale is our seniors are sometimes being priced out of where they have lived for, in some cases, more than 20 years,” she told the Scottsdale Daily Beat said.
“In Scottsdale, what we are going to be talking about is what can we do at City Hall to reduce costs. In Scottsdale, being affordable is how much you spend on utility bills, the cost of the mortgage and rent … anything that we can do to reduce utility bills immediately makes Scottsdale more affordable.”
Councilwoman Whitehead offers a forthcoming work session topic this fall focused on what is within reasonable bounds to require at City Hall that translates to more energy efficiency, which may lower the cost of living.
“Before we even talk about the cost of the rent, let us talk about the materials that are going into the products that being built,” she said. “How can we reduce the water usage of the housing product? When you achieve more cost efficacy, you are protecting public health.”